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OPINION: Illiteracy fairly common in Arkansas

by Natalie Maruschak | September 8, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

To strive towards a more literate society we must work together in communities to combat the obstacles that prevent people from accessing learning resources.

The ability to read, write, and speak in English is one that many individuals take for granted and do not often reflect upon the gift that this skill is. Literacy is not a skill everyone is blessed to have in the United States, since maybe not everyone had the opportunity to be instructed in English from a young age.

Illiteracy is fairly common in Arkansas, with 13.7 % of all adults over the age of 16 lacking basic reading and writing skills, according to a statistic reported through This could be because the primary language of these individuals is not English or perhaps they were unable to attend school long enough to build those skills.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization recognizes the importance of helping individuals who are not equipped in literacy. They annually take a day to bring awareness to illiterate communities and educate others on how to better help their neighbors have access to learning how to read and write. International Literacy Day has been celebrated since 1967 "to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society."

International Literacy Day 2021 will be celebrated on Wednesday, September 8. The theme this year will be: "Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide."

Especially in the past year and a half, the covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to learning of any form. It is estimated to have interrupted the learning of over 773 million non-literate individuals around the globe. However, the pandemic has also presented the world with new ways to connect with one another over electronic devices, effectively beginning to narrow the digital divide.

Skype, Zoom, online classes, and electronic messaging have all rapidly become the predominant means of connection between people during covid-19.

While the technology and resources have been made available, they have not been evenly distributed to those who need them and are seeking to learn. Thus, it is important now more than ever to work together to bring resources and opportunities to non-literate communities.

Thankfully, an organization in Northwest Arkansas is doing just that.

The Dogwood Literacy Council in Siloam Springs, led by Charlie Muessemeyer, works to empower adults who may not be familiar with English or to strengthen their literacy skills by providing instruction free of charge. Those who work at the Dogwood Literacy Council work with individuals and encourage them as they learn how to speak, read, and write in English.

The instructors strive to provide their students with the means necessary to build these skills so that they may gain confidence in their English to live more productive lives in English-speaking communities.

"My favorite thing about working at Dogwood Literacy is getting to know the people who come to improve their literacy skills," said Muessemeyer. "These people are looking at living the 'American dream.'"

The students at the Dogwood Literacy Council are brave men and women who sacrifice time out of their schedules and with their family to diligently learn so they can improve not just their lives, but the lives of their families as well. These individuals understand the importance of literacy and how it is the key to success in the modern world. Muessemeyer and the volunteers at the Dogwood Literacy Council work with the students to not only equip them with that key but help them to know how to utilize it so they may unlock all the doors in their paths.

As citizens of Siloam Springs, you can participate and help these brave individuals by bringing awareness to International Literacy Day on September 8th, and by volunteering at or donating to the Dogwood Literacy Council through their website.

Be the change and help others achieve the gift that you have, stand alongside them, cheer them on, and lift them up.

Humanity must work together in both small communities and on the larger international scale to combat illiteracy and provide everyone with opportunities and resources to improve their lives by connecting them with the rest of the world.

-- Natalie Maruschak is a senior studying history at John Brown University. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: Illiteracy fairly common in Arkansas


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